I know that there are reports that the Nokia Lumia 920, the current flagship Windows Phone 8 device, is selling out here and there. It’s possible I suppose, but likely overstated. But there’s no way they’re going to sustain sales beyond these eager early adopters. Why? Because no one wants a Windows Phone.
Let’s back up to 2006 to see what the problem is. Back in the days before the iPhone ushered in the modern smartphone era, Windows Mobile was Microsoft’s entry into the mobile phone market. It was based on the Windows CE kernel, and it was a tiny PC OS that was jiggered to send and receive calls. As a phone, it was pretty bad. But as a tiny computer, I thought it was actually pretty great. But I was in the minority — most people absolutely hated Windows Mobile. Once the iPhone hit the market, it looked even worse. I still liked it better than the iPhone, but I was in an even smaller minority.
The reason why I kept on chugging with WinMo was its vibrant developer community and open ecosystem. Regular dudes were creating utility programs to deal with this problem or that — sure, the iPhone could do some of the things I was looking for in its sleep, but the OS was so locked down and restricted. Basically, I was willing to go with the buggy system because it was open. When Microsoft announced Windows Mobile 7 (which became Windows Phone 7), they decided to follow Apple’s lead and create a locked down system. This is exactly when I flipped to Android. Android, not Windows Phone 7, is the spiritual successor of WinMo.
In any case, Microsoft was very late in coming out with WP7 phones, and when they did, they were underwhelming. They had last generation specs and zero reason to switch from Android or iPhone. And for a long, long time, they were trailing in marketshare to WinMo. That’s right, they couldn’t even beat the two year old operating system they replaced.
Still, the level of ineffectiveness was astounding. And then a year later, they scrapped it all. Windows Phone 8 came out to generally positive reviews in October. The first phones, the HTC 8X and the Nokia Lumia 920, received generally good scores and positive notices.
And still no one will buy them. Sure, there are real problems, like the hanging and freezing that WP8 devices are prone to and the random rebooting that is the target of an upcoming update. And the battery life isn’t really great shakes. And while Microsoft likes to claim that they have almost all of the “important” apps that iOS and Android have, most of these are apps are in name only — their functionality greatly trails the apps for the other operating systems. The dearth of good apps for Windows Phone 8 reminds me of the Android Market circa 2010. Android got over that pretty quickly after developers noticed how much traction it was getting in the marketplace. But Windows Phone is mired in the single digits in terms of marketshare (and that’s including WinMo devices). Where’s the impetus for developers?
And then there’s the fragmentation of models by carrier — the Lumia 920, which many consider the WP8 flagship phone, is an AT&T exclusive. Ditto for the 8X. There will be models from HTC and Samsung coming for the other carriers eventually, but by then WP8 will have been swept under the carpet, a carrier giveaway phone that no one wants. Even now, the Lumia is being sold for $49-$99, which puts it at the kind of price bracket for bargain phones. And the bottom line is this:
No one wants a Windows anything. Most consumers have been burned by Windows PC’s in one way or another. Most of the problems have nothing to do with Windows itself, but Windows is what most people see up front and center, and thus it’s Windows they heap scorn upon. They keep using it because they have legacy printers and legacy programs, continuing to upgrade their Windows OS out of inertia and fear of the unknown (and the prices of Mac systems aren’t helping matters). They’re in a hate cycle they can’t break. So the last thing they want to get caught up with is Windows on their phone.
When you see the kind of monolithic name recognition Windows has, the fact that they can only achieve a sliver of marketshare suggests that people are avoiding the brand just like people are avoiding Blackberry. Microsoft is a victim of their own bad reputation. Even worse — no one is buying Windows 8 PC software either. Sales have been very disappointing, and the prevailing advice is to skip it like Windows Vista. The halo effect from the closely named Windows Phone 8 will also result in the rejection of Windows 8.
Oh, and the Windows Surface Tablet? Yeah, that’s also DOA. As with Windows Phone 8, there is simply no compelling reason to give up Apple or Google or Amazon for Microsoft.